This is my contribution to the #ClimateStrike. For the past 8 years or so, I’ve volunteered as energy coordinator of the Informatics Forum. My mission has been to reduce energy consumption in the Forum, both by encouraging occupants to change their behaviour (e.g. by turning off lights and equipment) and to identify changes in building operation. It’s been a steep learning curve, as my academic expertise is computational neuroscience, not engineering.
Here are some reflections on what I’ve learned:
- Modern buildings are complicated, with a big chunk of energy being consumed behind the scenes on services such as ventilation.
- The details of construction and operation really matter to efficient operation. I have had the privilege of working with Bill Bordass, helping with a “Post Occupancy Evaluation” of the building. He explains what’s wrong with how we build now and how we can do better.
- Controls and control engineers are crucial. The University’s control engineers were able to save about 15% of our electricity consumption by automating the opening and closing of a vent and adjusting the controls. Control engineers are my unsung heroes.
- The spec of the building is crucial. Somehow we ended up having a very oversized uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that gobbled another 15% of our power, but it was never clear who wanted it in the first place! (Thankfully we’ve now replaced it and another UPS – the signs are that we’re saving a decent amount of electricity.)
- Data can be quite helpful. We have automated readings of overall electricity consumption and how much is used by servers and offices. Though one of the biggest insights into energy consumption came from 2 manual readings of a meter in the plant room!
- Academic buildings are an energy nightmare compared to standard office buildings. We stay in them at all hours, so the automated controls on lights in corridors don’t get much of a chance to turn the lights off.
Here’s what we (and the University) could think about:
- Is it crucial that all our servers stay on during a power cut? When it next comes to replacing the UPS, we could perhaps get a smaller one if demand for it is lower. We should really be checkpointing our jobs anyway.
- Server energy consumption use has been increasing (perhaps something to do with deep learning and GPUs?) Can we make our code any more energy efficient? Can we teach energy efficient coding?
- Can we replace the fluorescent lights with LEDs, and perhaps tweak the controls?
- Can we reduce the need for travel and travel more often by train? Of course, plane is often cheaper than plane, even for UK mainland travel, but train fares, even first class, can be reasonable in advance and the University expenses policy says that “a non-standard class rail fare is allowable where the claimant plans to work for the duration of the journey“.
- The ventilation in some offices is still not good, and could, I think (I’m not a building engineer), be modified without increasing energy consumption on ventilation – and might perhaps allow us to reduce consumption.
I’m sure there’s more to think about – comments welcome.